Mon Jan 14, 2013, 10:33 PM
Jefferson23 (30,099 posts)
Aaron Swartz, RIP ( Scott Horton, Harpers )
January 14, 2013
A leading cyberactivist commits suicide at twenty-six. Was he hounded to death by federal prosecutors?
His accomplishments were astonishing considering his short life. By the time of his death on Friday, Aaron Swartz had invented the RSS feed, contributed significantly to the development of Reddit, and emerged as a leading voice on freedom of information and the ethics of intellectual-property protection on the Internet. He had also become the target of an extravagant prosecutorial vendetta, launched by federal authorities, that reads like an updating of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Swartz’s family issued a statement placing responsibility for his death squarely on federal prosecutors, led by Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz (widely said to be preparing to run for the Massachusetts state house) and prosecutors Stephen P. Heymann and Scott L. Garland, who aggressively pursued dubious felony charges against him. As Swartz sought to have the charges against him reduced to misdemeanors, indicating to his willingness to agree to a plea, prosecutors reacted by adding more factually untenable felony charges against him. Swartz repeatedly expressed despair over the effort to criminalize him and deprive him of his freedom. His family wrote:
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.
These views were echoed by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, who penned under the heading “Prosecutor As Bully” a blistering attack on the Justice Department:
7 replies, 1579 views
Aaron Swartz, RIP ( Scott Horton, Harpers ) (Original post)
Response to Jefferson23 (Original post)
Mon Jan 14, 2013, 10:46 PM
proverbialwisdom (4,878 posts)
1. A.Stamos: I had hoped to ask Aaron to discuss these issues on the Defcon stage once he was acquitted
The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”
January 12, 2013
By Alex Stamos in Cybercrime, Rights and Legality, Security
Tags: Aaron Swartz, Cybersecurity, Law
I did not know Aaron Swartz, unless you count having copies of a person’s entire digital life on your forensics server as knowing him. I did once meet his father, an intelligent and dedicated man who was clearly pouring his life into defending his son. My deepest condolences go out to him and the rest of Aaron’s family during what must be the hardest time of their lives.
If the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, so be it, but in the meantime I feel a responsibility to correct some of the erroneous information being posted as comments to otherwise informative discussions at Reddit, Hacker News and Boing Boing. Apparently some people feel the need to self-aggrandize by opining on the guilt of the recently departed, and I wanted to take this chance to speak on behalf of a man who can no longer defend himself. I had hoped to ask Aaron to discuss these issues on the Defcon stage once he was acquitted, but now that he has passed it is important that his memory not be besmirched by the ignorant and uninformed. I have confirmed with Aaron’s attorneys that I am free to discuss these issues now that the criminal case is moot.
I was the expert witness on Aaron’s side of US vs Swartz, engaged by his attorneys last year to help prepare a defense for his April trial. Until Keker Van Nest called iSEC Partners I had very little knowledge of Aaron’s plight, and although we have spoken at or attended many of the same events we had never once met.
Should you doubt my neutrality, let me establish my bona fides. I have led the investigation of dozens of computer crimes, from Latvian hackers blackmailing a stock brokerage to Chinese government-backed attacks against dozens of American enterprises. I have investigated small insider violations of corporate policy to the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have responded to break-ins at social networks, e-tailers and large banks. While we are no stranger to pro bono work, having served as experts on EFF vs Sony BMG and Sony vs Hotz, our reports have also been used in the prosecution of at least a half dozen attackers. In short, I am no long-haired-hippy-anarchist who believes that anything goes on the Internet. I am much closer to the stereotypical capitalist-white-hat sellout that the antisec people like to rant about (and steal mail spools from) in the weeks before BlackHat.
I know a criminal hack when I see it, and Aaron’s downloading of journal articles from an unlocked closet is not an offense worth 35 years in jail.
Response to Jefferson23 (Original post)
Mon Jan 14, 2013, 11:31 PM
enough (8,979 posts)
3. Scott Horton can be counted upon for a clear straightforward discussion.
This sentence from the article sums it up for me:
"Swartz’s motivations were extremely clear: not to steal this academic work product and personally benefit, but to make it more widely available, and to protest the fact that intellectual-property law was being manipulated to benefit not the authors or inventors that the law is designed to protect, but rather commercial interests that were corralling those rights for their own purposes, which were often at odds with sound academic policy."
Response to Jefferson23 (Original post)
Tue Jan 15, 2013, 03:27 AM
pam4water (2,916 posts)
6. Democracy Now did there show on him today. Showed one of his speeches for the last ten minutes.
Response to pam4water (Reply #6)
Tue Jan 15, 2013, 09:51 AM
Jefferson23 (30,099 posts)
7. Thanks for the link.
AARON SWARTZ: So, for me, it all started with a phone call. It was September—not last year, but the year before that, September 2010. And I got a phone call from my friend Peter. "Aaron," he said, "there’s an amazing bill that you have to take a look at." "What is it?" I said. "It’s called COICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeiting Act." "But, Peter," I said, "I don’t care about copyright law. Maybe you’re right. Maybe Hollywood is right. But either way, what’s the big deal? I’m not going to waste my life fighting over a little issue like copyright. Healthcare, financial reform—those are the issues that I work on, not something obscure like copyright law." I could hear Peter grumbling in the background. "Look, I don’t have time to argue with you," he said, "but it doesn’t matter for right now, because this isn’t a bill about copyright." "It’s not?" "No," he said. "It’s a bill about the freedom to connect." Now I was listening.
Peter explained what you’ve all probably long since learned, that this bill would let the government devise a list of websites that Americans weren’t allowed to visit. On the next day, I came up with lots of ways to try to explain this to people. I said it was a great firewall of America. I said it was an Internet black list. I said it was online censorship. But I think it’s worth taking a step back, putting aside all the rhetoric and just thinking for a moment about how radical this bill really was. Sure, there are lots of times when the government makes rules about speech. If you slander a private figure, if you buy a television ad that lies to people, if you have a wild party that plays booming music all night, in all these cases, the government can come stop you. But this was something radically different. It wasn’t the government went to people and asked them to take down particular material that was illegal; it shut down whole websites. Essentially, it stopped Americans from communicating entirely with certain groups. There’s nothing really like it in U.S. law. If you play loud music all night, the government doesn’t slap you with an order requiring you be mute for the next couple weeks. They don’t say nobody can make any more noise inside your house. There’s a specific complaint, which they ask you to specifically remedy, and then your life goes on.
The closest example I could find was a case where the government was at war with an adult bookstore. The place kept selling pornography; the government kept getting the porn declared illegal. And then, frustrated, they decided to shut the whole bookstore down. But even that was eventually declared unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.
So, you might say, surely COICA would get declared unconstitutional, as well. But I knew that the Supreme Court had a blind spot around the First Amendment, more than anything else, more than slander or libel, more than pornography, more even than child pornography. Their blind spot was copyright. When it came to copyright, it was like the part of the justices’ brains shut off, and they just totally forgot about the First Amendment. You got the sense that, deep down, they didn’t even think the First Amendment applied when copyright was at issue, which means that if you did want to censor the Internet, if you wanted to come up with some way that the government could shut down access to particular websites, this bill might be the only way to do it. If it was about pornography, it probably would get overturned by courts, just like the adult bookstore case. But if you claimed it was about copyright, it might just sneak through.
And that was especially terrifying, because, as you know, because copyright is everywhere. If you want to shut down WikiLeaks, it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that you’re doing it because they have too much pornography, but it’s not hard at all to claim that WikiLeaks is violating copyright, because everything is copyrighted. This speech, you know, the thing I’m giving right now, these words are copyrighted. And it’s so easy to accidentally copy something, so easy, in fact, that the leading Republican supporter of COICA, Orrin Hatch, had illegally copied a bunch of code into his own Senate website. So if even Orrin Hatch’s Senate website was found to be violating copyright law, what’s the chance that they wouldn’t find something they could pin on any of us?
There’s a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the Internet in terms of traditional things that the law understands. Is sharing a video on BitTorrent like shoplifting from a movie store? Or is it like loaning a videotape to a friend? Is reloading a webpage over and over again like a peaceful virtual sit-in or a violent smashing of shop windows? Is the freedom to connect like freedom of speech or like the freedom to murder?
This bill would be a huge, potentially permanent, loss. If we lost the ability to communicate with each other over the Internet, it would be a change to the Bill of Rights. The freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution, the freedoms our country had been built on, would be suddenly deleted. New technology, instead of bringing us greater freedom, would have snuffed out fundamental rights we had always taken for granted. And I realized that day, talking to Peter, that I couldn’t let that happen.
But it was going to happen. The bill, COICA, was introduced on September 20th, 2010, a Monday, and in the press release heralding the introduction of this bill, way at the bottom, it was scheduled for a vote on September 23rd, just three days later. And while, of course, there had to be a vote—you can’t pass a bill without a vote—the results of that vote were already a foregone conclusion, because if you looked at the introduction of the law, it wasn’t just introduced by one rogue eccentric member of Congress; it was introduced by the chair of the Judiciary Committee and co-sponsored by nearly all the other members, Republicans and Democrats. So, yes, there’d be a vote, but it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, because nearly everyone who was voting had signed their name to the bill before it was even introduced.
Now, I can’t stress how unusual this is. This is emphatically not how Congress works. I’m not talking about how Congress should work, the way you see on Schoolhouse Rock. I mean, this is not the way Congress actually works. I mean, I think we all know Congress is a dead zone of deadlock and dysfunction. There are months of debates and horse trading and hearings and stall tactics. I mean, you know, first you’re supposed to announce that you’re going to hold hearings on a problem, and then days of experts talking about the issue, and then you propose a possible solution, you bring the experts back for their thoughts on that, and then other members have different solutions, and they propose those, and you spend of bunch of time debating, and there’s a bunch of trading, they get members over to your cause. And finally, you spend hours talking one on one with the different people in the debate, try and come back with some sort of compromise, which you hash out in endless backroom meetings. And then, when that’s all done, you take that, and you go through it line by line in public to see if anyone has any objections or wants to make any changes. And then you have the vote. It’s a painful, arduous process. You don’t just introduce a bill on Monday and then pass it unanimously a couple days later. That just doesn’t happen in Congress.
But this time, it was going to happen. And it wasn’t because there were no disagreements on the issue. There are always disagreements. Some senators thought the bill was much too weak and needed to be stronger: As it was introduced, the bill only allowed the government to shut down websites, and these senators, they wanted any company in the world to have the power to get a website shut down. Other senators thought it was a drop too strong. But somehow, in the kind of thing you never see in Washington, they had all managed to put their personal differences aside to come together and support one bill they were persuaded they could all live with: a bill that would censor the Internet. And when I saw this, I realized: Whoever was behind this was good.